Huntsville Area Prominent In Medicare Payments Data

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Newly released Medicare data has a Huntsville pain clinic in the spotlight.

That’s because that data puts the Huntsville area up at the top for Medicare spending per enrollee in the nation.

This is according to a Washington Post investigation.

The investigation shows the Huntsville area ranks fourth in the nation for Medicare spending per enrollee for drugs given by doctors in 2012.

The investigation also shows the area ranks number one on spending for unclassified drugs.

“This medication keeps me functioning.  Prior to that, I was bedridden or using a cane and I’m not willing to go back to that,” patient Pat Brunker says.

She’s talking about a treatment she got at the Alabama Pain Center. It’s a pump under her skin and the medication that courses through the pump is considered as an unclassified drug injection.

Those are drugs mixed at places like the center.

The Washington Post reports that form of treatment is rare and expensive.  The pain clinic is unique in that it mixes the drugs on site and offers the treatment.

That’s why people from all over the south flock to the center.

The Post’s investigation shows Medicare spends significantly more on unclassified drug injections per enrollee in the Huntsville area than the rest of the nation.

For example, the Washington Post reports Medicare spends on average about four dollars on unclassified drug injections per enrollee nationwide.

In the Huntsville area, that number jumps to about $152 per enrollee.

The Post reports that’s 38 times more.

So, why is Medicare spending so much in the Huntsville area than in the rest of the nation?  Center leaders tell the Post the treatments are for the “worst of the worst” and that those pain pumps are usually more expensive.

Last year, a Medicare contractor started an audit on the center.

Then late last year, the center was told all Medicare payments would stop.

That was a move center leaders told WHNT News 19 would force them to shut down.

Brunker said at the time the center’s potential shutdown would be crippling for her. “I don’t understand how they can deny us, all of us, our medications and I don’t know where to go.”

Eventually, Medicare resumed payments and the center stayed open.

The Washington Post reports pain clinics nationwide rarely use the pump style treatment.  But, they report it’s used thousands of times a year at the Alabama Pain Center which ultimately brings in those Medicare reimbursement dollars.

8 comments

  • Say What

    Alabama receives $3.28 in federal funding for every $1.00 paid in federal taxes. Federal money accounts for 37% of the overall state budget. Alabama is one of the largest welfare states in the country. Alabama is one of the states riding in the wagon being pulled by otter states! For an area that is so anti-government — we are one of the most dependent on the federal government. Instead of being so hateful, this area needs to be more thankful to the federal government for keeping us alive!!

    • Say What

      Bill, the “otter” (don’t ya love auto-correct) 9 of the top 10 states that receive the most federal funding are: New Mexico, West Virginia, Mississippi, District of Colombia, Hawaii, Alaska, Montana, South Carolina, and Maine.

  • Alvin

    The sad part is that this story is taken from a larger Washington Post story. The parts omitted in the above story change the flavor considerably. My opinion: What the Alabama Pain Center does is necessary and the technology is relatively new so it is expensive. How can you refuse treatment to someone who is all but helpless because of pain when there is an option to help that person.? Medicare is looking at cost saving and what that treatment does. My Opinion: I am a relatively healthy person with good insurance. I depend on my job for that insurance. 90% of chronic pain injuries occur on the job, and then that insurance goes away, replaced by Medicare and the disability system. I am okay with the cost if it gets the person’s quality of life back, and if they can even work again to some degree they start to pay back into the system. I am okay with taking my share of the Medicare taxes I pay and using it for someone who is disabled and needs the help only the Alabama Pain Center can provide. Read the full Washington Post article. I am sorry that Dr. Stokes, former APC physician is upset that he only made $300,000 in the year and a half he worked at APC. Poor baby.

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